Some years ago I was given a wooden tenor recorder. (It’s a Küng pearwood, made in Germany, if anybody cares.) It came in a basswood storage case that the previous owner had made for it, but time and use had weighed heavily on the original case. The cheap hinges eventually fell off, and there was no latch to keep the box closed. The interior, however, still did its job of protecting the instrument, so I resolved to build a second, sturdier box around the original basswood case.
That was four or five years ago. Finally, over the holidays, I built the case.
The finished box is made from cherry and spalted pecan–the same wood combination that comprises my tool chest, on which the recorder case is sitting in the above photo. I like the combination visually, and I happened to have a lot of both woods on hand. I also selected some cherry that had a few bug holes in it (including one massively big hole) in order to do some creative inlay to fill the holes.
But back to the original basswood case. It has a story.
The maker was a high school math teacher. She wasn’t much of a woodworker, but she did understand geometry. She bought a number of thin pieces of basswood, which is very soft and easy to carve. She she measured the recorder pieces at different points, drew out the measurements on each thin piece, cut the profile out of each section, and then glued the sections together to form a box. The result is what you see above–though I presume she did some sanding to get everything fitted just right.
In my own stock selection, I found pieces of wood that were thick enough that I could saw each one in half. That way, the top and bottom pieces that make up each side of the clamshell would be bookmatched. The cherry sides ended up at about 3/8″ thick, and the pecan top and bottom just a little thinner. But I did almost no numerical measurement on this project. The new case just needs to fit the old case snuggly inside it.
I carefully arranged the pieces for the best visual effect and marked them out.
Construction was straightforward. I dovetailed the corners–one big dovetail per corner–and plowed grooves all around the insides of the cherry sides to accept the pecan top and bottom, which will be captured in the grooves once the sides are assembled.
On the long sides, I used my plow plane to cut the groove along their entire lengths, but had I done that to the short end pieces, the ends of the groove would show as gaps once the box was put together, and I’d have to plug each gap. The other option is to make a stopped groove.
I began by taking a couple strokes with my plow plane, stopping before I went all the way through the end. That way, I had the groove laid out exactly as it should be. I just needed to deepen the groove. I first used a utility knife to score each side of the groove.
I then used a narrow chisel and mallet to deepen the groove. The result wasn’t exactly pretty, but it worked. The grooves are small, about 3/16″ wide and deep.
I beveled the top of each panel with a handplane so as to just fit into the grooves. Then it was time to glue up each side.
Everything came together nicely. When your joints are cut precisely, you shouldn’t need much clamping pressure to keep them together as the glue dries. Just enough to ensure that all mating surfaces are making full contact, and that the joints don’t somehow spring apart while you’re not looking.
After planing, the joinery looks pretty tight all around.
I cut a small chamfer all around the top and bottom of each side, just to break the sharp edges and prevent damage to the box in use.
Then it was time to fill in the bug holes with some some crushed stone inlay. The process is not difficult, and I’ve used it before on my dining table and other projects. I begin by back-filling any deep holes with cheap material–either sawdust or a slip of wood, such as a section of a toothpick. When I back-fill with sawdust, I flood it with superglue to keep it all in place. Then I fill each hole with the inlay material, which in this case is a green stone called malachite. (I get it in small amounts on Amazon–I get the finest grain available.) I mound it up a bit over each hole and then soak it with superglue. The regular, thin variety works better than the gel kind. Once the glue sets up, I scrape and sand the surface flush and clean.
Fitting the old box into the new one was easy enough. It did require a little planing here and there to get everything to fit. Somehow I made the new box just a little too long, so I had to pack just a little filler (wood shavings squeezed flat) into one end.
I ordered some hinges and a latch from Lee Valley, and while I waited for them to arrive in the mail, I set about finishing the box. Because the box may see significant handling, I went with three coats of a semi-gloss polyurethane.
Everything fits nicely now.
The recorder fits very nicely
I could have used small hinges that required a mortise, but I really like the look of decorative, surface-mount hinges for a project like this. And they’re a lot easier to install. To hold them steady while I marked out the screw holes, I taped them down with masking tape.
The latch is a simple wire catch.
It was a satisfying project, and my favorite recorder will have a fine home for many years to come.